German field-marshal who commanded his country's forces against the Allied invasion of northwest Europe in 1944.
From an aristocratic Prussian family, von Rundstedt rose through the ranks of the Imperial German army to become an eminent staff officer; during World War I he assisted in the reorganization of the Turkish general staff. Between the wars he participated in the clandestine rearmament programme until his retirement in 1938. Recalled by Hitler in 1939, von Rundstedt first headed the German southern wing in the invasion of Poland and then, in 1940, commanded an army group in the invasion of France. His decision to delay the advance of the Panzer divisions on Dunkirk in order to consolidate his positions enabled the evacuation of the trapped British Expeditionary Force across the English Channel.
Promoted to field-marshal in the spring of 1941, von Rundstedt commanded the southern army group in the invasion of the Soviet Union. By November the offensive was bogged down and he requested a strategic withdrawal to the Mius River. Hitler refused and von Rundstedt relinquished his command. However, in July 1942, Hitler appointed him commander-in-chief, west, with responsibility for the defence of the northern European coast and the French Mediterranean coast against possible Allied attack. Nominally under von Rundstedt's command was Rommel, who energetically strengthened the coastal defences; von Rundstedt, with his forces constantly depleted by the war in the east, was doubtful of the value of this. In July 1944 he was again dismissed by Hitler for urging a strategic withdrawal to the Seine following the Allied invasion in June. Two months later he was reappointed yet again but played little part in the planning or execution of the Ardennes offensive of December 1944, which initially threatened to break the Allied advance. Von Rundstedt was relieved of his command for the third time in March 1945 and in May was captured by US troops only to be released shortly afterwards on health grounds.
Subjects: Second World War.